FAQ: The Who & Why of Terrorism

View All FAQs

Why do people become terrorists?

The goal of terrorism is to use fear or fear tactics to cause a social or political change that would then fit their chosen ideology. Several factors influence an individual’s decision to use violence. In the end, an individual must rationalize that violence outweighs any other method to bring about the change in their desired policy agenda. Violent extremists believe that they have a quarrel with ideas and beliefs oppose other races, ethnicities, religions, and governments making those who fall into the categories of their opposition their enemies. Since their way must be the right way, they lash out in their frustrations and views and attack those that they oppose. Specific ideologies also affect how extremists act; terrorist groups can recruit new members through a common understanding of the injustices committed against the minority.

Forrest, J. J., 2015, The Terrorism Lectures 2nd edition

Read a more in depth answer here!

For more information, please visit: MIT; nij.gov

What are the signs of someone becoming a terrorist?

Most people are not extremists. However, if someone you know is starting to talk positively about and research the ideologies of a terrorist group, is talking about leaving the country to travel to a suspicious area, is posting on social media in support of extremist groups, and is beginning to train with weapons while looking into radical groups, then there could be reason for concern. Thoughts and words are not against the law, but if you fear these can turn into actions, contact an authority figure like a community leader or police officer.

How can I identify a terrorist?

There is no definite or "best" way to identify a terrorist. There are profiles out there for certain types of terrorists such as suicide bombers but profiles can be too narrow or too focused which can result in people falling through the cracks or no one being caught at all.

Read a more in depth answer here!

Why is religion used to promote violence?

Just as some terrorist groups like the Earth Liberation Front or PETA use the environment or treatment of animals as a reason for violence, while others work for anti-abortion causes, some organizations will use religion to justify their methods of violence. The belief for these groups is that some Supreme deity is on their side, justifying in their eyes their cause.

Read a more in depth answer here!

For more information, please visit: Forest, J.J., 2015, The Terrorism Lectures

What does terrorism (and political violence) solve?

Terrorism is a form of expression, and is used to bring awareness to a group’s cause, agenda, following, and/or ideology. It is what the person(s) involved believe is the only option to bring about the changes they seek (Forest, J. J., 2015).

People join terrorist organizations for different reasons. Some join for a sense of purpose or the action and excitement. Some join because they believe in the political ideology of the organization and hope to help achieve that goal. There are many different reasons why people join and it ultimately depends on the individual.

Read a more in depth answer here!

What is the common typology of a terrorist?

There is not a single profile that can encompass all terrorists without being either too broad and including everyone or being too specific and not useful. Anyone could respond to calls for domestic terrorism, so long as they identify with an ideological belief, such as animal rights, religion, or political beliefs. There are several influences towards terrorism, from economics to poverty (nap.edu). Any religion could be affiliated with terrorism, such as Christian anti-abortionists, Islamic terrorists (such as al-Qa’ida and ISIS), Hindu Thuggees, Jewish Zealots, the Buddhist Bodu Bala Sena, and the Sikh Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan.

Terrorism is split into two major categories: domestic and international. Domestic terrorism is an attack from an individual or group in their home country against their own people. An example of domestic terror organizations are religious groups, such as the KKK, environmental groups, such as the ELF and ALF, and left- and right-wing groups. International terrorism groups include a multitude of religiously affiliated groups that all have specific ideologies and conduct attacks internationally. For more information about domestic terrorism visit fbi.gov. The U.S. Department of State also has an updated list of international terrorist organizations.

Read a more in depth answer here!

What are the different organizations associated with terrorism?

The U.S. Department of State maintains an extensive list of groups/organizations engaged in terrorist activity: state.gov.

Some are fighting for a God, while others want to protect the environment. Each group on the State Dept. website is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, based on actions taken by the group.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation maintains a list of Most Wanted Terrorists, separate from the list the State Dept. maintains. This FBI list names individuals who are wanted in association with terrorist acts.